Prose Header

The Chicken Coop

by Rachel Zellers

Part 1 appears
in this issue.

“Hey,” she said to him.

The man blinked at her, then frowned. “I’m sitting here.”

“I see that. Mind if I join you?”

The man sighed. “Why not? My night couldn’t get any worse.”

Trish ignored the barb. “I know what you mean. My boyfriend is being a real jerk.”

Mr. Tall, Dark and Grumpy didn’t say anything.

“Yeah,” she went on, “and I got fired today. No one appreciated me at that dump anyway.”

The man nodded. “Yeah, well, no one appreciates me either. They don’t even notice me. It’s like I’m invisible.”

“I know! Me, too! I mean, look at my boyfriend,” she pointed at Larry. “He’s practically drooling all over that slutty waitress. I could run around here naked and he wouldn’t even bat an eye.”

The man chuckled. “So you came over here to talk to me to make him jealous?”

Trish blushed and lowered her head. “Maybe,” she mumbled. But then she raised her eyes to his and gave him a smile. “But I do think you’re cute.”

“Cute?” The man sneered. “I am not cute, mortal.”

This guy is totally weird, Trish thought, but she was bored and Larry hadn’t noticed her yet. “Yeah, you’re cute. You have nice eyes.” They were nice. Big and blue.

The man snorted. “No one has ever called me ‘cute’ before.”

Surprised, Trish asked, “Really? What do they usually call you?”

He scratched his head. “Terrifying,” he finally said.

“You’re so weird.” She giggled. “I don’t think you’re scary.”

His face fell. “Of course not.”

“Why would you want to be terrifying anyway?”

He glared at her. “I’m a demon. Demons are generally terrifying.”

“Sure. You’re a demon. Good one.” She rolled her eyes. He was probably gothic or something. Or into some obscure pagan religion. Why did she always have to pick the nut cases?

“That’s exactly what I’m talking about! You mortals don’t take me seriously anymore.”

“If you’re a demon, then prove it,” Trish said, holding back her laughter. She’d wait for his response and then go get Larry. Taco Shack wasn’t sounding too bad after all.

His jaw went slack, and he stared at his hands. His shoulders started to shake, and for a moment, she thought he was laughing. Then she looked closer, squinting in the flickering fluorescent light, and saw that he was crying.

She sighed. Great. He’s probably mentally ill. I made a mentally ill man cry. I suck. Trish got up and sat down next to him and put her arm around his shoulders.

“Hey! It’s okay. You can be a demon if you want. Here.” She dug around in her purse and handed him a wrinkled Kleenex.

He snatched it from her and blew his nose. “But that’s the thing. I can’t do anything impressive anymore.”

“Well,” she began, certain she’d regret it, “I’m easily impressed. Try me.”

He closed his eyes. “Okay... you’re name is Trisha Taylor... you live in your parents’ basement. You write bad poetry. You fake it every time with Larry-”

“Okay! That’s enough.” She narrowed her eyes. “How’d you know all that stuff?”

“I told you. I’m a demon. Reading the minds of mortals is easy.”

Trish narrowed her eyes. What if he was just a psycho who had been stalking her or something? But then, that didn’t make any sense. She’d never even seen him before. It was all too random.

“Wow. I am impressed.” She inched away from him, planning her escape. She eyed the front door of the diner fondly.

The man’s face brightened. “Really? You seem scared, too!”

She laughed nervously. “I’m a bit freaked out. I think I’ll go and grab Larry-”

He took her hand and kissed it. “You are a remarkable mortal! I feel stronger.”

Trish tried to jerk away, but his grip was iron. “Um... let me go.” She tried to keep her voice steady, but it shook despite her best efforts.

A loud clap of thunder rattled the windows and the lights went out for a second before flashing back on. The man squealed in glee.

“I did that! Isn’t that great?”

“Yeah... um... great.”

* * *

The loud clap of thunder startled Larry. He looked around the diner and saw Trish sitting with some asshole who was holding her hand.

“That hussy!” Larry said under his breath. The waitress grabbed his chin and forced him to look at her. “Forget about her, honey. Why don’t you come back to the kitchen with me?” She slipped her hand into his and led him into the kitchen.

* * *

Aldi watched Astar take the male away. He knew what lay in store for the mortal and he grinned. He’d hurt Trish, and Trish was special. Hard to believe that she was human.

He held her wrist tightly and pulled her closer to him. “I think I’m going to keep you. You’re good luck,” he whispered against her cheek.

She twisted and tried to pry his fingers from her arm, but her fear lent him the strength he needed to hold. She couldn’t get away.

“Let go! You’re hurting me!” Her voice was loud, and some of the other demons eyed them.

He loosened his grip. “Forgive me.” I must remember how fragile she is, I shouldn’t damage my pet, he scolded himself.

“I’m not going anywhere with you!” Trish spat.

“You only have two options, and believe me, pet, you’ll prefer my offer.”

She narrowed her eyes. “What are you talking about?”

“Look around you. Look closely at the customers. Tell me what you see.”

Trish did as he told her, and her eyes widened in horror. “They’re...”

“Demons, yes,” he finished for her. “And they’re hungry demons.”

“Hungry?” Her voice rose in pitch.

He nodded. “That’s right. As we speak, your former love interest is probably being skinned and cooked.”

“Larry?” Her entire body went stiff. The fear rippled off of her in waves and washed over him, tingling in his stomach, twitching his skin.

“I thought you said he was a ‘real jerk’?” Aldi asked, a smirk curling his lips.

“He is, but... but he doesn’t deserve to be eaten!” She was stammering, her face red.

Aldi smiled and shook his head. “Oh, yes he does. That’s part of the deal. In order for the owner of this fine establishment to stay in business, the food have to sell their soul first.”

“Sell his soul?”

“That’s right. He sold his soul for a piece of particularly fine demon tail.”

Her face, which had been pale, so pale it was almost bloodless, now went crimson. She scowled. Aldi liked her angry. Her energy was pure and hot.

“That jerk! It was the waitress, wasn’t it?”

“Yes. Her name is Astaroth, Seducer of Men.”

Trish’s face fell and tears filled her eyes. “I can’t believe he’d do that to me,” she breathed.

Aldi let go of her wrist and wrapped his arm around her shoulders. “Humans are usually idiots, especially the males.”

“But, wait... I haven’t sold my soul. So your pals here can’t eat me.” She pushed his arm off her.

“True enough. But demons aren’t a very honorable breed. And I don’t doubt you’re a sinner. They may think that’s good enough.” He watched as her eyes widened. “But don’t worry. You’re mine and I would never hurt you.”

“Look, whatever your name is...”


“Look, Aldinach. I need to get out of here. I don’t want to go anywhere with you, okay? I just want to go home.” He shrugged. “Right. Go back to live in your parents’ basement. And probably find another boyfriend who doesn’t appreciate you, or notice how special you are.”

“You think I’m special?” she squeaked, her eyes bright with unshed tears.

“Of course. You’ve helped me... my power is coming back. And, for a human, your form is pleasing.”

“Gee, thanks,” she huffed, crossing her arms over her chest.

He peered down her low cut blouse. “I amend that. Your form is very pleasing.”

A grin twitched at the corners of his lips when her cheeks pinked and she smiled a little.

She sighed. “I don’t know if I’m ready for another relationship.”

“Then just travel the world with me,” he purred into her ear.

He felt her body relax against his and she looked up at him, her large eyes shining. “Okay,” she said with a timid smile.

* * *

Sam watched Aldi as he flirted with the skinny girl. He turned away, feeling slightly ill and scrubbed his face with his hands. What a disaster!

Deciding he’d had enough, Sam marched over to their booth and grabbed the girl’s arm, yanking her to her feet. “Come on, kid. Let’s have a talk,” he said to the girl. Aldi flew out of the booth, fist raised. The wind howled around the rickety diner. “Hands off! She’s mine!” he snarled. The lights flickered.

Sam shook his head slowly as he heard his guests murmur. Some of them laughed. He hoped for — their sake — it wasn’t at him.

“Aldinach, get a hold of yourself. Remember what I said about me going to a lot of trouble to set this up? Remember how I talked about the rules? Rule number one: If a mortal enters, they can’t leave. We have to get them to sell their soul... which would’ve been easy if you hadn’t spilled the beans to this stupid kid.”

“You won’t touch her.” The wind raged even harder now and sirens wailed. Tornado sirens.

“Calm down. Look, I’ll take the girl to the back, dispose of her quietly, and we’ll forget this whole mess.”

“Help me, Aldinach,” the girl pleaded.

Sam knew then that he was screwed. Or rather, this whole venture was.

The doors to the kitchen flew open and Astar carried a big, silver platter laden with steaming meat. The girl screamed. Then, the very worst happened. A beautiful woman walked in. She wore a prim, gray suit and her long pale hair was loose around her shoulders. Above her head, the faint glow of a golden ring shimmered. The angel looked around the place, and wrinkled her nose. Sam’s shoulders sagged. “Hello, Ash.” Sam said, trying to sound cheery and failing. “Sam,” she said, inclining her head towards him. He forced a laugh. “My... this is rather awkward, isn’t it?” “A bit,” she said, crossing her arms over her chest. “So... uh... what brings you here? Doesn’t seem like your type of place. Too low class.” Ash shook her head at him. “Come on, Sam. You know why I’m here.” She took a clipboard out of her bag and began to write. Sam tipped the edge of it down and peered at it. “What’s all this then?” “I work for the Health Department now. Your kind is always opening some goth nightclub or crappy restaurant, and I prefer to fight fair. You do realize there’s a giant cockroach in your kitchen, right?”

Sam waved a hand, dismissing this. “He’s harmless.”

“It’s a violation.” Ash’s tone was all business. She made a little check mark on her list.

Ash pushed Sam out of her way and strode over to where Astar stood, still holding the tray of meat. She gave it a sniff and then put her head in her hand.

“This is really disgusting, Sam.” Another check. “I don’t even know what kind of violation that is, but it has to be one.”

“You’re shutting me down, aren’t you?”

She nodded. “Yup. You broke the rules.”

“I did?” He feigned innocence.

“You tried to kill a mortal before she sold her soul. That was poor form, Sam. I expected better from you.”

“Yeah, yeah. Can my guests at least finish their dinner?”

“Are you going to let the girl go?” Ash countered.

Sam pursed his lips. “No.” Ash stared at him, her large gray eyes wide, her pretty mouth slack. “No?” Sam just smiled, pointed teeth flashing under the pink of his lips. “That’s right, Ashriel. There’s one of you and at least ten of us. This fight will get real ugly, real quick. You don’t want an all-out war over a stupid mortal, do you?”

Ash’s face paled and her shoulders slumped. “Damn you, Sam.” Sam laughed. “Done and done.”

* * *

Trish pulled and scratched the hand of the man who held her wrist, but it was like trying to move stone. Her nails dug into his flesh, but she didn’t even leave a mark. And she heard her fate decided.

“Help me!” she mouthed to Aldi.

The rush of a train thundered as the diner began to shake and the lights flickered. Then, the windows, one by one, all burst, sending shards of glittering glass flying. Metal whined against metal, wood splintered and snapped. The lights dimmed and then brightened for one more brief moment before being extinguished completely. The hand that had held onto her wrist was gone, and wind buffeted her.

Trish fell, her body tumbling in darkness, her skin stung by little rocks and other debris that nicked her flesh. The roaring of the wind filled her ears and she was shouting — she knew she was because her throat was burning — but she couldn’t even hear her own screams.

Strong hands gripped her waist and she was held against a warm, firm body and they were... flying. Then Trish realized her eyes had been squeezed shut and carefully she opened them. She was in Aldi’s arms and he was looking at her with such affection and pride that she blushed, but when she looked down and saw the earth growing smaller under her feet, all the color drained from her face. Her tongue felt too big for her mouth. The Chicken Coop was nothing more than a pile of smashed wood and twisted aluminum siding.

In awe she watched the twister curl back up into the roiling sky as they continued to ascend.

“Are they dead?” she shouted over the din of thunder.

Aldi shook his head. “I doubt it.”

She opened her mouth to express her concern, but was quickly silenced by the crush of his lips on hers. He tasted like rain.

* * *

A whoosh of air left Sam’s lungs as the large, wooden beam was lifted off of his chest. When his vision cleared, Sam saw a small hand reaching out. He grabbed it and was hauled to his feet.

“I certainly hope you learned your lesson,” Ash said, picking glass out of her long blond hair.

He brushed dirt off of his pants. “Nope. I never learn. That’s part of my charm.”

She cocked a pale brow at him and then sighed.

“Of course... you could always try to teach me a lesson. I’m told that sense has to literally be beaten into me.” He gave the angel his most devious grin, but the grin faded when he saw the dangerous flash in her eyes. “Or we could just go for a coffee?”

Ashriel frowned, then she shrugged and smiled.

Sam offered her his arm and she took it, much to his delight. As they walked over the rubble and into the street, he heard a loud crunch.

Ash made a face and looked at the bottom of her shoe. “Ew!” She said as she saw all the green goo on her heels. “What on earth did I step in?”

Sam said a mental farewell to Rakshasa, and gave her arm a light squeeze. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”

* * *

Astaroth emerged from under a toppled table and watched Sam and Ash leave the ruined diner, arm in arm. She smiled.

“Well, Sam was right about one thing,” she said to Eronymous, who was busy looking for an arm that had somehow been torn off.

“What’s that?” he asked, his tone suggesting that he didn’t really care.

“The Apocalypse is going to be any day now.”

Copyright © 2007 by Rachel Zellers

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